Chapter 1: Geological Ecosystem of India

Question : Discuss the formation and characteristics of the Himalayan mountain range. How has the geological evolution of the Himalayas influenced the surrounding regions?

Introduction

  • India, the 5th largest country globally, boasts rich geological and geographical diversity.
  • Landscapes range from the Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain range, to low-lying coastal plains bordering the Indian Ocean.

The Himalayas

  • Formed by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates, creating a massive fold mountain system.
  • Stretches from west-northwest to east-southeast for about 2400 km across five Southeast Asian countries.
  • Width varies (350 km in the west to 150 km in the east).
  • Comprises four parallel mountain ranges:
    • Shivalik Hills (south)
    • Lower Himalayan Range/Himachal (south)
    • Great Himalayan Range/Himadri (central) – home to Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga, etc.
    • Tibetan Himalayas (north)
  • Contains glaciers like Gangotri and Satopanth.

The Northern Plains

  • Also called the Great Plains of India, one of the world’s most extensive alluvial tracts.
  • Runs roughly 2400 km west to east and stretches 240-320 km north to south.
  • Formed from sediments brought by rivers from the Himalayas and deposited in a foreland basin.

Sub-regions of the Northern Plains

  • Bhabar: A narrow belt of porous sediment deposited by rivers as they descend the Himalayas.
  • Terai Belt: Located south of the Bhabar, a densely forested region with diverse flora and fauna (Jim Corbett National Park, Kaziranga National Park).
  • Bhangar: Older alluvium forming a terrace above the floodplain, often covered in calcareous pebbles (“Kankar”).

Delta Formation

  • Sediment deposits from rivers of the northern plains form the world’s largest delta – the Sundarbans.
  • The Sundarbans mangrove forest acts as a natural barrier against cyclones and tsunamis.
  • Rich in fauna, including the Bengal Tiger, estuarine crocodile, Indian Python, and various bird species.

The Peninsular Plateau

  • The largest physiographic entity of the Indian landmass.
  • Table-land topography with an elevation of about 900-1200 m above sea level, dissected by rivers forming broad valleys.
  • Stretches from the Aravalli Range in the west to the Chota Nagpur Plateau in the east.
  • Includes important mountain ranges of Central India (Vindhyas, Satpuras, Mahadeo, Maikal, Sarguja) and the Western and Eastern Ghats.
  • Rich in mineral resources (iron, bauxite, mica, gold, copper, manganese).
  • Well-known mines include Kolar, Hutti, Bailadila, Singhbhum, Korba, Malanjkhand.
  • Contains most of India’s Gondwana coal deposits.
  • Large areas covered with fertile black soil, ideal for cotton cultivation.

The Thar Desert

  • A vast arid region in the northwest part of India, also known as the Great Indian Desert.
  • Consists of sand dunes (bhakhar, up to 150 m high), rocky terrain, salt flats, and sparse vegetation.
  • Features dry riverbeds (nullahs) that occasionally fill with water during the monsoon season.
  • Rich in oil reserves, including the Barmer Basin, one of India’s largest onshore oil fields.
  • Contains the Great Rann of Kutch, one of the world’s largest salt marshes, and a major salt-producing district in India.

Island Groups

  • Andaman and Nicobar Islands: An archipelago of around 572 islands (only 37 inhabited).
    • Volcanic in origin, formed by lava eruptions due to plate movements.
    • Barren Island: India’s only active volcano.
  • Lakshadweep: An archipelago of 36 islands off India’s west coast.
    • Mainly coral islands with unique marine flora and fauna.

Conclusion

  • India’s geological wealth positions it as a major global producer of coal, iron ore, bauxite, manganese, mica, and zinc.
  • Geological ecosystems have significantly shaped India’s landscapes and mineral resources.

 

 

Chapter 2- Holistic Exploration of Western Ghats

Question : Examine the significance of the Western Ghats as a biodiversity hotspot, highlighting its unique ecological features, endemic species, and importance in modulating India’s climate.

About Western Ghats

  • Also known as Sahyadri Mountain Range
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Stretches from Tapti river (north) to Kanyakumari (south)
  • Encompasses Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli

Topography and Natural Resources

  • Part of Malabar Rainforest Biogeographic Province
  • Older than the Himalayas and an ‘evolutionary ecotone’
  • Formed millions of years ago during the collision of the Indian subcontinent with the Eurasian plate
  • Average elevation 1200 meters, with peaks up to 2600 meters (Anamudi highest peak)
  • Watershed for major rivers (Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Tungabhadra)
  • Plays a pivotal role in modulating India’s climate by intercepting monsoon winds

Subdivision of Western Ghats

  1. Northern Ghats (Gujarat to Maharashtra) – Lowest and least rugged section
  2. Central Ghats (Karnataka to Kerala) – Highest and most rugged section
  3. Southern Ghats (Kerala to Tamil Nadu) – Most dissected section

Local names of Western Ghats

  • Sahyadri (Gujarat to Maharashtra & Karnataka) – ‘Abode of Sahya’ (mythological rain serpent) or ‘benevolent mountain’
  • Nilgiri Hills (Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu) – ‘Blue mountains’ (southernmost section)
  • Sahya Parvatam (Kerala) – ‘Sahya Mountains’
  • Cardamom Hills (Kerala-Tamil Nadu border) – Named after cardamom spice
  • Anaimalai Hills (Kerala-Tamil Nadu border) – Derived from Tamil word ‘aanai’ meaning ‘elephant’

Biodiversity

  • One of the world’s highest biodiversity hotspots
  • 4,000 vascular plant species (1,500 endemic)
  • 650 tree species (352 endemic)
  • High levels of endemism in animals (amphibians, reptiles, fishes)
  • Diverse range of vegetation types (evergreen, semievergreen, moist deciduous, dry deciduous)
  • Western Ghats have 7 forest types
  • Home to minimum 325 globally threatened species (IUCN Red List)

Some of the Fauna Groups found in the Western Ghats

  • Mammals (139 species, 16 endemic) – Nilgiri Tahr, Lion-tailed Macaque, Gaur, Tiger, Asian Elephant etc.
  • Birds (508 species, 16 endemic) – Broad-tailed Grassbird, Nilgiri Wood Pigeon etc.
  • Reptiles (124 species) – Common: Melanophidium, Teretrurus, Plecturus, Rhabdops (shield-tailed snakes)
  • Amphibians (Nearly 80% endemic) – Malabar frog, Micrixalus, Indirana (frogs), Ghatophryne, Pedostibes (toads)
  • Fish (Over 288 species, 118 endemic) – Freshwater species are highly threatened
  • Invertebrates (Over 331 butterfly species, 174 dragonfly species)

Threats

  • Habitat loss and fragmentation (deforestation for agriculture)
  • Wildlife poaching, deforestation, overfishing, livestock grazing
  • Excessive use of agrochemicals in plantations
  • Construction activities (railway lines, mining, tourism infrastructure)

Conservation and Management

  • Legal protection for wildlife and habitats (Environment Protection Act, Wildlife Protection Act, Forest Rights Act)
  • Designation of protected areas and Eco-Sensitive Zones (ESZs)
  • Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, State Forest Departments, National Biodiversity Authority play key roles

Challenges

  • Effective implementation of policies
  • Balancing development with conservation
  • Interstate coordination
  • Addressing climate change issues

Way Forward

  • Strengthen enforcement mechanisms
  • Promote sustainable development practices
  • Enhance collaboration among stakeholders
  • Invest in research and monitoring
  • Address climate change challenges
  • Collaboration between government, local communities, NGOs is crucial

 

Chapter 3: Soil Ecosystem

Question : Evaluate the significance of understanding soil complexity for sustainable land management and ecosystem conservation.

Introduction

  • The soil ecosystem is a complex network of living organisms and non-living elements interacting in a dynamic environment.
  • It supports various life forms and plays a critical role in sustaining terrestrial ecosystems and human societies.

Components of the Soil Ecosystem

  • Physical Environment:
    • Texture, structure, and moisture content form the foundation.
    • Influence the distribution and behavior of organisms within the soil.
  • Organic Matter:
    • Dead plant and animal material along with living microbes, fungi, and earthworms.
    • Provides nutrients and energy for soil life, crucial for fertility and structure.
  • Micro-organisms:
    • Bacteria, fungi, protozoa, etc., vital for nutrient cycling, decomposition, and soil health.
    • Break down organic matter, fix nitrogen, and contribute to soil aggregates.
  • Macro-organisms:
    • Earthworms, insects, nematodes, and small mammals.
    • Play various roles in nutrient cycling, soil aeration, and structure formation.
    • Influence soil fertility and ecosystem functioning.
  • Plant Roots:
    • Exudates (fluids) fuel microbial activity and contribute to soil organic matter.
    • Shape soil microbial communities and nutrient cycling processes.

Functions of the Soil Ecosystem

  • Nutrient Cycling:
    • Soil organisms decompose organic matter, releasing nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) for plants.
  • Decomposition:
    • Microorganisms and detritivores break down organic matter, recycling nutrients back into the soil.
    • Contributes to soil fertility and organic matter accumulation.
  • Soil Formation:
    • Develops over time from parent material through weathering and biological processes.
  • Water Regulation:
    • Soil acts as a reservoir, storing and slowly releasing water over time.
    • Influences water infiltration, retention, and drainage, affecting plant growth, groundwater recharge, and flood mitigation.
  • Habitat Support:
    • Provides a habitat for a vast array of organisms, from microscopic bacteria to larger mammals.

Interconnections

  • Components and functions are linked through complex relationships and feedback loops.
  • Plant root exudates feed microbes, which help plants absorb nutrients and improve soil structure.

Conclusion

  • The soil ecosystem is a dynamic and diverse community sustaining life on Earth.
  • It plays a vital role in terrestrial ecosystems and human wellbeing.

 

Chapter 4: Sacred Groves

Question : Discuss the significance of sacred groves in biodiversity conservation and cultural preservation, highlighting their role in protecting ecosystems, preserving traditional knowledge, and empowering local communities.

Introduction

  • Sacred groves are areas of natural vegetation preserved through local taboos and sanctions that hold spiritual and ecological values.
  • Their ecological value lies in the traditional association of sacred groves with wildlife and physical landscapes such as streams.

Types of Sacred Groves

Classified based on deities, cultural and religious importance, and their association:

  1. Temple Groves: These groves are associated with temples due to their religious significance. They are generally protected by the government, the temple trust, or village committees.
  2. Traditional Sacred Groves: These are places where folk deities reside. They often contain a rich variety of plant and animal life.
  3. Religious Groves: Associated with Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, and Sikhism.
  4. Island Groves: Categorized based on habitat-specific ecological importance, for example, mangroves and coastal/riverine areas in Andhra Pradesh.
  5. Burial/Cremational/Memorial Groves: Associated with burial places. These are seen as places of reverence for the deceased and are believed to be inhabited by the spirits of ancestors.

Significance of Sacred Groves

  1. Protection of Ecosystems: They often serve as protected areas, safeguarding biodiversity by restricting human activities that can harm the environment.
  2. Traditional Knowledge: Local communities that manage sacred groves often possess a deep understanding of the local ecology and traditional practices passed down through generations.
  3. Biodiversity Conservation: They can act as a refuge for a wide range of plant and animal species, especially in areas where habitat loss is a major threat.
  4. Cultural Preservation: They are important repositories of cultural and religious practices of local communities.
  5. Community Empowerment: Often managed by local communities.
  6. Environmental Benefits: Play a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance of an area.
  7. Community Conservation: Protecting biodiversity, preserving natural resources, and managing them sustainably for future preservation.

Biodiversity Heritage Site

A unique conservation approach recognized under Section 37 (1) of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. Under this, the State Government may, from time to time, in consultation with local bodies, notify areas of biodiversity importance as Biodiversity Heritage Sites in the official Gazette. So far, 44 Biodiversity Heritage Sites have been notified by 16 states.

Challenges

Sacred groves have been legally protected under Community Reserves in the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002. However, in the modern era, the groves face serious threats due to:

  • Habitat loss
  • Climate change
  • Global warming
  • Invasive/Alien species
  • Other challenges such as anthropogenic pressure, encroachment, deforestation, cultural degradation, pollution, and lack of proper legislation.

Conclusion

Sacred groves are legally protected under community reserves under the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002. These are prime examples of community conservation and a unique source for in-situ conservation. However, in the modern era, the groves face serious threats due to rapid urbanization, cultural shifting, anthropogenic pressure, global warming, and climatic change, leading to the erosion of sacred groves, their ecology, flora and fauna, and sociocultural significance.

 

Chapter 5 : Blue Economy

Question : Critically analyze the policy measures needed to promote the sustainable development of India’s Blue Economy.

Introduction

  • Defined by World Bank as sustainable development of ocean resources for economic benefits, improved livelihoods, and healthy oceans.
  • Integrates ocean development with social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and innovative business models.
  • Contributes 3-5% of global GDP and holds potential for economic growth through jobs and income generation.
  • Over 80% of international goods transported by sea.
  • UN declared 2021-2030 as the ‘UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development’.

India’s Scenario

  • Extensive coastline (over 7500 km) and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) exceeding 2.2 million sq km.
  • 9 coastal states.
  • Network of 200 ports, including 12 major ports handling 541.76 million tonnes in FY21 (highest – Mormugao Port, Goa).
  • World’s second-largest fish producer with a fleet of 250,000 fishing boats.
  • Blue economy contributes roughly 4% of India’s GDP and is expected to rise.

Importance of the Blue Economy for India

Ocean and Resources

  • Fisheries:
    • Categorized as marine and inland fisheries.
    • Contributed Rs. 46,663 crore through exports in 2019-20.
    • Fish production grew from 0.75 MMT (1950-51) to 14.2 MMT (2019-20) (Annual Report of the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, 2021).
    • 3.7 MMT – marine fish production, 10.4 MMT – inland fish production (2019-20).
  • Minerals:
    • Continental margins hold a variety of mineral deposits.
    • Heavy minerals like ilmenite, magnetite, etc. found on Indian coasts.
  • Hydrocarbons:
    • Sea beds are a major source. India has 26 sedimentary basins.
    • Production: 34 MMT oil, 33 BCM gas (not enough to meet demand).
  • Renewable Energy:
    • Includes energy from sunlight, wind (onshore/offshore), hydro, tides, waves, etc.
    • Tidal lagoons, reefs, fences, and barrages used for tidal energy generation.
    • Offshore regions hold tremendous potential for wind, waves, currents, and thermal energy.
    • Offshore wind is the most developed renewable energy source from oceans.

Ports, Shipping, and Marine Tourism

  • Network of 12 major ports and 187 non-major ports.
  • 95% of trade volume and 68% by value move through maritime transport.
  • India has a large merchant shipping fleet (17th globally). Shipping is a key livelihood provider.
  • Marine tourism is the fastest growing globally. Coastal tourism significantly contributes to state economies and livelihoods.

Ocean Science and Services

  • Observations, data, and information services are crucial.
  • Operational services include marine fishery advisories, ocean state forecasts, tsunami warnings, etc.
  • Ocean health is vital for the blue economy (estimated value: USD 24 trillion).
  • Climate change (warming, sea-level rise, acidification, pollution) damages marine ecosystems and livelihoods.
  • Sustainable use of marine biodiversity is essential.
  • Plastic pollution is a growing threat. A robust policy is needed.
  • Blue economy is a new field. More research is needed across various disciplines.

Niche Areas

  • Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning: A science-based approach to manage coastal and marine space for economic development and conservation.

Source of Employment in the Blue Economy

  • Traditional sectors: Fishing, aquaculture, fish processing.
  • Marine tourism: Cruise travel, boating, scuba diving, etc.
  • Shipping and ports: Growing logistics sector increases the role of ports in job creation.
  • Shipbuilding: Employs individuals with diverse skills.
  • Emerging sectors: Offshore wind, marine biology.
  • Skill development initiatives are crucial to harness the full potential of the blue economy.

 

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